Summer is a great time for high school students to check out college campuses. All along the tour, prospective applicants oogle at fancy buildings and neatly cut landscapes, but too often they miss what they really should be there to see. It’s difficult when you are a high school junior or senior because at that point, you don’t know what you don’t know. You are interested in a career as a broadcast meteorologist, but have no idea what it will take to get you there. The sooner you realize you might not be in a great program, the sooner you can switch to one that is going to give you the education you need.
There is a huge difference between being a meteorologist and a broadcast meteorologist. Maybe that is obvious, but I see way too many demo reels on YouTube that look like they were made in someone’s basement on the last day of college. I see way too many tapes that look like no one helped them out at all. Believe me I’ve been there, and it took another year and a half in a broadcasting program to get the skills I should have gotten in the first place. I got lucky and it pains me to see others go through that, especially now with tuition so high and starting salaries so low. Not being able to compete for an entry-level job after four years of college is really bad news.
So the college visit is your chance to ask the right questions now, so you don’t end up getting stuck later on. There are a few, very fundamental things to find out that should give you a very clear sign if you are going to get the broadcasting part of that broadcast meteorologist experience. If it were me, I’d be asking these questions to a faculty member and not the tour guide so that you can be absolutely clear that you are getting what you want.
1. How are meteorologists who are interested in the broadcast track trained for on-air work? Is there are specific class for broadcast meteorology performance? Who teaches that class, and what experience do they have in broadcast meteorology?
Here you are looking for training. Some atmospheric meteorology programs have no performance training for meteorologists. Don’t expect to learn this at an internship. By junior year you should be in a three credit class that gives you weekly instruction and practice, away from campus television. You want to get training and feedback from an instructor who knows broadcast meteorology. I’m sure there are exceptions, but I wouldn’t expect a dynamics professor to teach you how to move around a chroma-key wall, or a journalism professor to teach you how to set up your graphics for a three-minute weather hit. The best instructors of broadcast meteorology are broadcast meteorologists.
2. What kind of equipment do they use to create weather graphics? Is there a class or some sort of training on how to use the software? What kind of studio facilities exist on campus? Is the equipment that students learn on the standard in the industry?
Here you are looking for equipment. You need to have the right tools to learn on. Some of these things are expensive, but there are many meteorology programs that invest in professional weather graphics systems and studios. Make sure that the campus has either a WSI or Weather Central weather computer, which students can use to make graphics for their weathercasts. Also make sure that there is someone on the faculty that knows how to use it; both to teach you, and to keep it running when things get glitchy. They should know the basics of graphic design too, so not only do you learn how to make the graphics, you learn how to make the graphics look good.
3. How often do students get to do weathercasts? Are the weathercasts live daily or taped? Do meteorologists get to work along side student anchors and reporters on the set? What are the opportunities to learn reporting, editing and shooting video?
Finally you are looking for opportunity. Broadcast meteorology takes lots of practice, and you want to be sure that you are going to have plenty of chances to work on camera. Live weathercasts are always better than taped ones, and you should be able to work on a news set along with other students who are working on the journalism side. You want an environment as close to a local newscast as you can get. That is how you learn and get better. Find out how many students are in the broadcast meteorology program. You’ll want to make sure that you can get weathercasts at least once a week by the middle of your junior year. It’s also very important that broadcast meteorologists learn some reporting, editing and shooting skills while in college. It will usually give you a leg up on other job seekers.
If you are already in college and some of these areas are coming up short in your program, you should know that there are other good broadcast meteorology programs out there. I teach one of them at Lyndon State College, and I’d be happy to answer any of your questions. Just remember that after graduation is not the time to reconsider your college program. Be aware of the experience you need to succeed and make the right choices for your career as early as possible. The sooner, the better. Good luck!